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About the cover

Land of Enchantment

Fool's Gold

That treasure hidden by a millionaire author north of Santa Fe is only the latest hoard supposedly worth seeking in the state.

by Jeff Berg



In recent months, Forrest Fenn — an 80-plus-year-old Santa Fe-based author, adventurer, former art gallery owner, antiquities dealer, raconteur and millionaire — has been in the news. The coverage, including "NBC Nightly News" and the "Today Show," was sparked because Fenn has supposedly hidden a treasure worth a reported $3 million somewhere. Although some say it is $1 million. Another report pegs it at $2 million. Others of course say that now it is more than $3 million, given inflation and gold prices and all.


The treasure box is said to contain gold coins, ingots, jewels such as rubies and emeralds, Fenn's favorite bracelet (which he would like back), and other "valuable" items, along with a micro copy of his book, The Thrill of the Chase. The book is said to contain at least 13 clues (also could be 9 or maybe 10 — depends on whom you ask) to the whereabouts of this trove. Fenn says the treasure is hidden "in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe" (not saying how far north, though most people assume that it is just north of the city), at an elevation above 5,000 feet, and is not buried. Or it could be buried, since reports on everything involved in this conflict greatly. Maybe that it is Fenn's point in doing this — it is like a rumor, with each telling it grows larger and more enhanced by details, real or imagined.

The box is said to be bronze and weigh 42 pounds. At this writing, in early June, no one has found it, including the 6,000 people who supposedly showed up in Santa Fe over spring break to have a look-see.

To "prove" this is not a hoax, Fenn has donated all proceeds from the sale of the book to charity, for an unnamed cancer patient. Fenn is afflicted with cancer himself, which became an impetus for hiding the treasure.

In April, he told an interviewer that two search parties (miraculously using only two clues) had come within 500 feet of the bonanza, but went home empty-handed. Fenn suggests that treasure hunters read the book, a memoir, and then a mysterious poem and then reread the book again to "juxtaposition language and clues from each." Oddly, the book was published in 2011 yet it has been only recently that this story has been getting an abundance of news coverage.

So, what if you find Fenn's "treasure"? Well, of course, the guv'mint has stepped up to say that they will fine you if you dig on public lands as they did one dimwit already. But oddly the tax officials have yet to check in as to how they would nab their piece of the pie.

Except for the woman from Texas who showed up and promptly got lost in the forest (no trees in Texas, apparently), requiring a rescue that involved two helicopters along with search and rescue teams, no one has been lost, hurt or detained by UFOs in the quest. Yet.

But Fenn's suddenly famous treasure is hardly the first to be hidden away — maybe — in the Land of Enchantment. Rather, his hoard is only the latest in a long line of lost or buried treasures that have had their shining moments, so to speak, around our fair state.



Seven Cities of Gold


First and foremost of course was the biggest hoax, myth, lie or if you really think otherwise, mistake, concerning riches in New Mexico, the fabled Seven Cities of Gold. The legend was born from stories told by four survivors of a shipwreck near Galveston (an incredible and true story in itself), led by explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and including a Moor named Esteban or Estevanico, who was the first black man to ever enter New Mexico. The stories of the fabulous cities of wealth in what is now northern New Mexico circulated around Mexico until Friar Marcos de Niza reported to Spanish authorities in Mexico City that he had seen "Cibola." He had traveled in the vicinity with Esteban/Estevanico, whom the Zuni killed.

"It is situated on a level stretch on the brow of a roundish hill," the friar said. "It appears to be a very beautiful city, the best that I have seen in these parts," he added. He did not enter the "city," espying it from a distance due to his fear of the Zuni people who dispatched his traveling companion.

About a year later, in 1541, the Coronado expedition started north but found no riches, only native people who in general wanted no part of Coronado and his mates. Much blood was shed, and Coronado went off chasing another rumor of riches to what is present-day Kansas. He failed to find a single thing of metallic value either here or there. He did lose most of his soldiers and attendants, as it is written that of the 1,000 who started out on the expedition, only 100 or so returned in 1542.

Please note that I'm sharing the following other stories of New Mexico treasure, not as fact, but as the most reasonable accounts of same that I have uncovered. All of these stories will have different details, participants and value, so they are told with the reminder that "skepticism is a virtue."



Victorio Peak


In an area called the Hembrillo Basin, in northern Doña Ana County, you will find Victorio Peak, named after the noted war chief of the Chiricahua Apache. It was in this vicinity that in November 1937, a couple — "Doc" and Babe Noss, who lived in Hot Springs (now T or C), NM — set out with four others on a deer hunt. Caught by himself in a rainstorm, Doc Noss waited out the storm under an outcropping, where he happened to notice a rock that looked like it had been "worked." Underneath the rock, which he lifted with much effort, was a shaft that went straight down.

Telling only his wife, he and Babe returned to the site shortly thereafter, where Doc Noss used a rope to lower himself into the opening. A second shaft, an additional 125 feet down, revealed much: 27 skeletons and a trove said by some to worth more than $2 billion. There were also some papers, saddles, a Wells Fargo box and of course gold bars, not to mention pig iron. Not trusting anyone, including his wife, Doc Noss hid the items he took from the limestone caverns and around the desert.

Several stories exist about how the "treasure" came to be, all of which have a lot of loopholes. One theory credits Spanish explorers. Another says it was Victorio himself, hiding loot there after stealing it from miners and people he killed during his resistance fight against the US government.




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